Intervention with abused and neglected children and their families must be planned, purposeful, and directed toward the achievement of safety, permanency, and well-being. An essential element of any planned and purposeful intervention is a complete understanding of the factors and conditions contributing to child maltreatment or other circumstances leading to child welfare involvement. A child protective services (CPS) caseworker, particularly when working with other service providers or community professionals, the family, and the family's support network, employs a family assessment to identify safety threats, risks, and problematic behaviors. The caseworker must then work with the family to identify strategies and interventions to facilitate needed changes.
Once the caseworker has completed this process, he or she must then incorporate this information into an effective, thoughtful case plan. The case plan provides a framework for case decision-making and addresses the following questions.
- What are the family outcomes that, when attained, will indicate that safety threats have been addressed, risk has been reduced, and the effects of maltreatment have been successfully mitigated?
- What tasks must be undertaken to attain these outcomes?
- What intervention approaches or services will facilitate the successful attainment of outcomes and achievement of goals?
- How and when will progress in implementing tasks, attaining outcomes, and achieving goals be evaluated?
Many agencies develop case plans that incorporate family strengths and integrate the extended family and others important in the family’s life, such as friends, clergy, or neighbors, to increase the safety of the children and family members. The case plan itself should provide a clear and specific guide for all involved to either strengthen or reduce the behaviors and conditions that affect safety and risk. It will identify the specific outcomes, goals, and tasks that must be achieved to facilitate those changes and will also establish benchmarks for monitoring family progress.
When children have been placed in foster care, the case plan must also meet certain Federal requirements that address the needs of the child. For example, the case plan must be developed jointly with the parent or parents no later than 60 days after the child has been removed from the home. In addition, the case plan must contain the most recent information provided by the child’s educational and health records and meet the educational stability case plan requirement at the time of each placement change. The caseworker should also consult with the child in a manner appropriate to the child's development regarding the child’s goals and needed services.
The caseworker is responsible for updating or developing the plan at specified times, usually at a minimum of every 6 months or whenever significant events occur in the case. Examples of these might include the location of an absent parent, a change in the child’s placement, successful completion of treatment, or a new maltreatment report.
Note that the objective of a case plan is not to create a perfect family or a family that matches a caseworker’s own values and beliefs, but to address safety threats and to reduce or eliminate the risk of maltreatment so that children are safe and have their physical and emotional needs met. Involving the family in planning is vital to secure the family’s investment in and commitment to the plan, empower parents or caregivers to take the necessary action to change behavior, and ensure that the agency and the family are working toward the same end.